Helen Johnson
Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson - Why I Paint

Exploring the creative processes of tomorrow's artists today - as featured in Vitamin P3

Helen Johnson’s paintings exude a nonchalance that makes them feel immediately companionable. But their casual air and relaxed humour is tempered by a painterly acumen, as Johnson grapples with what she calls the ‘productive neuroses’ of painting and challenges conventions through confident and erudite experiments in style and content.

Her vignetted images provide the viewer with a specific but aleatory composition, allowing new meanings and connections to arise within what Johnson calls the ‘fuzzy space’ offered by the painting. The freedom associated with the idiosyncratic visual juxtapositions in Johnson’s paintings lends them individual characters, and makes them, in her words, ‘more open than declarative … more vulnerable’. Here, the Vitamin P3-featured painter tells us what interests, inspires and spurs her on.

 

Helen Johnson - Barron Field 2016 courtesy the artist
Helen Johnson - Barron Field 2016 courtesy the artist

 

Who are you?  A woman, a painter, a writer. Born in Australia to English parents.

What’s on your mind right now?  The nasty colonial foundations upon which non-Indigenous Australia has built an idea of itself.

How do you get this stuff out?  Digging through archives, amassing materials, figuring out how to start conversations between images that might have something interesting to say to one another.

 

Helen Johnson - Or else, 2016 courtesy the artist
Helen Johnson - Or else, 2016 courtesy the artist

How does it fit together?  One thing undoes another; a painting throws the register of its neighbour; things presumed to be privileged are pushed towards disappearance; backgrounds are made visceral.

What brought you to this point?  Learning to read things in new ways, self-questioning.

Can you control it?  No way!

 

Helen Johnson - Member, 2015 courtesy the artist and Chateau Shatto
Helen Johnson - Member, 2015 courtesy the artist and Chateau Shatto

 

Have you ever destroyed one of your paintings? I cut a large one into four pieces a few years ago. It was the beginning of a shift towards a different approach, and the paint crept quickly forward and made the surface chalky and clogged. I thought I might be able to divide and conquer it but instead I ended up with four failed paintings instead of one.

What’s next for you, and what’s next for painting?  For me: eroticism, weeds, sycophantic structures. For painting: persistence, diversity, problems, sustenance. Proceeding, as it will.

 

Helen Johnson - Watching a romcom after yoga, 2015 courtesy the artist and Chateau Shatto
Helen Johnson - Watching a romcom after yoga, 2015 courtesy the artist and Chateau Shatto

Vitamin P3 New Perspectives In Painting is the third in an ongoing series that began with Vitamin P in 2002 and Vitamin P2 in 2011. For each book, distinguished critics, curators, museum directors and other contemporary art experts are invited to nominate artists who have made significant and innovative contributions to painting. The series in general, and Vitamin P3 in particular, is probably the best way to become an instant expert on tomorrrow's painting stars today. 

Find out more about Vitamin P3 New Perspectives In Painting here. Check back for another Why I Paint interview with a Vitamin P3-featured artist soon. Finally, be sure to check out more of Helen's work at Chateau Shatto Los Angeles. And for a great silkscreen print of her work Linear History go to Artspace.